The tornadoes that tore through the Dallas area in early April may have seemed unusual for the area - but were they?Tornado Victims

New research from CoreLogic, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based analytics company, says historical data shows tornado risk is more widespread than commonly believed. Rather than being confined to the Midwest, the risk extends to most of the eastern half of the United States, according to the firm's report, "Tornado and Hail Risk Beyond Tornado Alley." In fact, among the top 10 states with the most tornadoes from 1980 to 2009, only three -- Kansas, Oklahoma and Illinois -- are actually in Tornado Alley. At least 26 states have some area facing extreme tornado risk, and almost every state east of the Rocky Mountains faces at least moderate risk for hail damage.

Last year's storms were notable for their severity -- more than 100 people died and hundreds of others were injured in Joplin alone -- and for the places they hit. The so-called Tornado Alley includes the Great Plains states and surrounding areas -- Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. But last year, tornadoes spun from Texas to New York, wreaking havoc in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia.

Tornadoes caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage from 2000 to 2011 within Tornado Alley -- and almost $15.5 billion in damage in 16 states outside the alley, according to CoreLogic. At-risk areas go as far north as portions of Minnesota and far south as parts of Florida.

The number of recorded tornado touchdowns has increased dramatically in the United States since the 1950s. Some of that increase might be due to changes in weather from global warming, but some if it might stem from better observational tools, population growth and migration to the suburbs.

Last year's severe weather has insurance companies re-evaluating risk, and some insurers will go to state insurance departments to request rate increases, CoreLogic says. Damage from tornadoes and hail is covered by standard home and business insurance policies, as well as the optional comprehensive portion of car insurance policies.

What can you do to stay safe?

Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning, advises the Insurance Information Institute. A watch means conditions are ripe for tornadoes to develop, and a warning means a tornado actually has been spotted. Seek shelter in the safest place possible if a tornado has been sighted. Here are tips from III:

  • At home, go to the basement or take cover in a central part of the house away from windows.
  • In an office, go to the center of the building, away from windows to the lowest floor possible. Stay out of elevators.
  • In a car, abandon the vehicle and take cover in a sturdy structure. Or, if you're in open country, take cover in a ditch. Lie flat, facedown.
  • Get out of a mobile home, even if it's tied down, and seek shelter elsewhere.
  • Follow instructions at school. Go to an interior room, and stay away from windows and large rooms, such as auditoriums or gyms.